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The Meaning of Saint Barbara

One Saint, many cultures

In spite of Saint Barbara belonging to the Christian and Orthodox church, her symbolism within mining culture is far more complex. In the mines of the Limburg region, workers came from different countries and backgrounds.

This did not impede them from developing a series of rituals, prayers and worships that strengthened the sense of the mining community. Saint Barbara was not only their protector, or their Catholic referent, but a symbol of unity, community, and respect amongst the miners.

The legend of Saint Barbara

Symbolism in 3D

Saint Barbara Statues as Objects of Worship

In spite of her fierceness, Saint Barbara is depicted with delicacy. Her most significant attributes are the three-windowed tower, the crown, the red and green tunic, and the palm branch. These attributes are all connected to her legend.

Click on the annotations on the 3D models to find out what they mean. 

This 40 cm painted replica (unknown artist) of a Saint Barbara plaster statuette is displayed at the Netherlands Mijnmuseum. In this representation of the saint, the three characteristic symbolic attributes appear: the lamp, the palm branch, and the tower (Stracke, 2013). Many families of miners kept or still keep statues like these. They have become objects of personal worship

3D model created by Inés Flor

This 45 cm high plaster figure (unknown artist) depicts Saint Barbara in a similar way to the model on the left. However, the tower of this statue shows a distinct difference. Figures like this could also be found in the churches of the mining community as well as down in the mines. They were placed in shrines or rock crevices where the miners could ask for the protection of the saint.

3D model created by Julia Weber

Barbara was in every mine and the statues would stand somewhere in a corner so everyone could see them. The statues and crosses were dusted off every morning so they looked nice.

Hans te Wiele
Former Miner

Barbara, patron saint of professions with a chance of sudden death, was for me always a support for the fear that was always present when Frans was at his work and always, it seemed, unattainable so deep underground. Every year on December 4, we visit the Barbara celebration at Terwinselen in the chapel of remembrance. Here we commemorate all 1473 miners who remained dead underground during the 75 years of mining. Their names are mentioned on commemorative stones. Yes I always have, and still do, a Barbara statue in the house and also a stone statue of a miner

Leny Thelen
Wife of a former miner

A prayer of the miners

For the protection of Saint Barbara

Many prayers of the miners were directed to their patroness Saint Barbara. You can see one of the traditional prayers on the right.

 

Click on the buttons to listen to an audio recording in Dutch. Information about the content of the prayer is provided in English.

Saint Barbara in popular culture

The story of Saint Barbara is still relevant and the saint has a significant cultural legacy as a character appearing in movies, songs, and plays. Here you can find some interesting facts about Saint Barbara in popular culture.

"Barbara" (2017)

A film by Mark Handels set in the 1950s and tells a story about the fears that women of miners had for their men working in the deep underground. The storyline revolves around the marriage of a young miner Sjef, his pregnant wife Maria and Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners. Watch the trailer

The Hold Steady (2006)

Saint Barbara is related to the song “Don’t let me explode” by rock band Hold Steady. In 2006, during the music festival “Lollapalooza”, the frontman Craig Finn told the story of Saint Barbara and compared her conversion to Christianity in those times with having face tattoos nowadays. Listen to his speech and the song

The Salty Piece of Land (2004)

Saint Barbara plays the main character in this novel by Jimmy Buffet. Learn more

Santa Bárbara, Virgen y Mártir (1971-1973)

This was the first telenovela in Spanish filmed in Hialeah, Florida, the U.S. Watch the trailer

Ontdek meer op de website van het Nederlands Mijnmuseum.

Hebt U vragen over het museum, deze website, over het project van de Universiteit van Maastricht of een andere vraag, stuur dan even een bericht.